BEIJING (AP) — China has replaced the top army general in the volatile northwestern region of Xinjiang following what the government called a terrorist strike in the heart of the capital Beijing, state media reported.
Peng Yong was relieved of his position on the party’s regional standing committee, the ruling Communist Party newspaper People’s Daily said in a report dated Sunday. The move effectively removes Peng’s authority as military commander over Xinjiang, an area of mountains and deserts twice the size of Texas.
While the paper did not give an explicit reason for the move, the timing appears to link it to the Oct. 28 attack in which a man driving an SUV accompanied by his wife and mother plowed through crowds before crashing in front of Tiananmen Gate, killing themselves and two tourists.
No one has claimed responsibility for the attack in Beijing’s symbolic political heart. The government has blamed the attack on Islamic extremists seeking independence for the Turkic Muslim Uighur minority in Xinjiang.
Police identified the three attackers and five alleged co-conspirators as members of the Turkic Muslim Uighur ethnic group native to Xinjiang.
While counter-terrorism is mainly the responsibility of the police and paramilitary People’s Armed Police, the military plays an especially influential role in Xinjiang. Military units there operate as de facto governments over certain cities and vast amounts of farmland and mining operations, maintaining their own police and courts.
Bordering on Pakistan, Afghanistan and several unstable Central Asian states, Xinjiang is prone to unrest and violence blamed on radicals among the Uighur population who have been waging a low-intensity insurgency against the Chinese government for decades.
While Beijing has released little information about the Beijing attack — the first in the Chinese capital in years — it follows a string of violent incidents in Xinjiang this year.
Uighur activists say economic marginalization and cultural and religious restrictions are fueling the violence, while Beijing blames overseas-based instigators.